New Perspectives for Learning - Briefing Paper 50
Students as "Journeymen" between communities of Higher Education and Work
This is the Final Briefing Paper of the project that started in September 2001
Context of the Research
Most governments across Europe have policies in place to increase the number of students entering higher education. This is based on the assumption that higher education can supply the skills and qualifications in terms of “human capital” required for a more complex and technological working life. In addition, European policy is also focused upon increasing workforce mobility between European countries.
However, underlying these broad policies are factors at play that might determine how successful such policies might be for preparing students for working life within different institutions, educational systems and cultures. One determining issue is what people make of education as well as how education moulds people. This would be through the mutual interplay between institutions of higher education, and the students and teachers that populate them. Another issue is that the same educational initiatives might bring different results in different cultures. Other factors will determine the possibilities and hindrances for increased work force mobility between European countries.
This project aimed to enhance the understanding of learning strategies, values and “worldviews” that students and novices apply within and across different learning environments - both in education and in working life. It has aimed to gain an understanding of students’ experiences of transitions from higher education to professional life in different European countries. In particular, it has focused on the cultural diversity of academic and work institutions in Europe. There has been a multilevel and critical analysis of the relationship between the formulated policies for higher education and the way higher education is experienced by students and professional novices.
In this project, students in higher education are viewed as “journeymen” between the cultures of higher education and working life. By studying students as individuals and as members of a culture, the project has aimed to gain a better understanding of the relationships between cultural, educational and working life contexts.
Comparative studies were conducted in Sweden, Norway, Poland and Germany using freshmen and seniors studying psychology, political science and other subjects. The senior students were also interviewed after their first year of working life experience.
At the Institutional and programme level: -
1. It was found that the institutions and programmes studied have different ideas of education. Although they deal with the same subject, they place different emphases, according to their learning organisation, and follow different pedagogies and conceptions of learning.
2. Such differences appear to be greater between professional programmes than between traditional liberal arts studies.
3. This may impact on learners` attitudes towards knowledge, competence and their work life expectations.
4. Professional programmes in Sweden and Norway have a more vocational orientation, whereas the counterparts in Poland and Germany are more modelled on the classical ideals of higher education.
5. Students in liberal arts studies develop generic skills e.g. communicative skills that they highly appreciated after they entered the labour market.
6. Student centred programmes e.g. problem based learning - seem to prepare students better for entry into work life than traditional programmes.
7. The process of learning and identity construction appears to be located in between academic institutions, work life experiences, individual life strategies and socio–political contexts. This means that Journeymen consider institutions of higher education as a part of the setting where professional learning takes place.
8. Programmes in higher education seem to have both a ritual and a rational relationship to demands faced by professional novices in work life. If the relationship is rational it may be substantive as well as generic. It is not evident that professional programmes have a more rational relationship to work life demands than liberal arts studies.
9. The transformation of higher education towards a greater mobility of workforce in Europe, in the form of higher education for the masses, poses fundamental challenges to educational programmes and policies. Study programmes have to be described in terms of their aims and intended impact on the students in addition to homogenising merely the “outer” framework such as grades or quantitative aspects of programmes.
10. There is empirical evidence that there are “institutional pacts” (tacit and overt) between institutions of higher education and professional corporations or other stakeholders in the social environment of the university. Political reforms in higher education have to consider the existence of such pacts. Otherwise there is a risk that reforms are avoided by different strategies or are implemented as sheer rhetoric.
At the macro European higher education level: -
11. A more integrated policy in Europe in the area of Higher Education in Europe requires that tendencies to maintain academic autonomy and the ever more increasing pressure on institutions of HE to comply with market demands, are balanced against each other.
12. There seems to be a politically constructed difference between knowledge and competence, the former significant in the relations between academic institutions and business (“academic capitalism” means that knowledge becomes a commodity and therefore is no longer freely transmitted in education), the latter constructing the field of learning for employment. It means that the discourse of competence that dominates the thinking of individual outcomes of higher education may deter the students from seeking knowledge, and leave the field of knowledge unchallenged and free to be capitalised. It is in the interest of European tradition to avoid such a development.
At the Institutional and programme level: -
1. Study programmes should be described in terms of their aims and intended impact on the students in addition to homogenising merely the “outer” framework such as grades or quantitative aspects of programmes.
2. Study programmes should also emphasise work life experiences in relevant fields and integrate these with the theoretical parts of the studies. This means that there should be sufficient opportunities for theorising practice and practising theory.
3. Study programmes should apply working forms that allow students to formulate aims for their learning and critically scrutinise and evaluate the outcome.
4. Professional study programmes in particular should be designed so as to give students a clear idea of how different courses contribute to the development of their professional identity.
At the macro European higher education level: -
1. Harmonising systems of higher education in Europe does not come into being only by implementing common outer frameworks or grading systems. There has to be a sense for diversity between disciplines and programmes. In the long run students are better off by having free access to a variety of study programmes.
- Recommendations given to institutions of higher education in Europe should build on the general principles designing sustainable conditions for learning as indicated in the key conclusions.
- A European dimension in higher education should be about equal power conditions as regards the influence on study programmes between institutions of higher education and professional corporations. An open dialogue between the actors is necessary in order to accomplish this.
The full title of the project is “Students as "Journeymen" between communities of Higher Education and Work”. Final Report - September 2004.The Project website is at: - http://www.hewl.net
Final Report Partner details
Higher Education and Working Life: A state of the art report. Project Students as Journeymen between communities of Higher education and work. European Commission project HPSE CT 2001-00068. November 2002
Freshmen Students on Education and Work. National analyses. Project Students as Journeymen between communities of Higher education and work. European Commission project HPSE 2001-00068 December 2002
National comparison of Freshmen and Senior Students. Project Students as Journeymen between communities of Higher education and work. European Commission project HPSE CT 2001-00068. April 2003.
An international Comparison of Freshmen and Senior Students. Project Students as Journeymen between Communities of Higher Education and Work. European Commission Project HPSE CT-2001-00068. June 2003.
Students as Journeymen between Communities of Higher Education and Work Life. Final report. European Commission: HPSE CT – 2001 – 00068. October 2004.
Karseth B & Solbrekke T D (2004): Communities of practice. Spaces of learning in higher education. Paper at the PROLEARN conference, Institute of Educational Research, University of Oslo, November 25-27.
Solbrekke T D & Karseth B (2004): Education for professional responsibility - an issue for higher education? Paper at the PROLEARN conference, Institute of Educational Research, University of Oslo, November 25-27.
Handal G & Lycke K H (2004): From higher education to professional practice: Learning among students and professionals. Paper at the PROLEARN conference, Institute of Educational Research, University of Oslo, November 25-27.
Gerhard-Marcator-Universität Duisburg, Fachbereich 2 Erziehungswissenschaft – Psychologie, Germany
University of Oslo, Institute for Educational Research, Norway
University of Gdansk, Institute of Education, Poland
Linköping University, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Sweden
Professor Lars Owe Dahlgren
Department of Behavioural Sciences
S 581 83 Linköping
Tel: +46 13 282120
Fax: +46 13 282145
For more information about other Briefing Papers on “New Perspectives for Learning” go to http://www.pjb.co.uk/npl/index.htm
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Last updated 28 June 2007